Tuesday, March 07, 2006

2248 Christians in a Jim Crow India

This week I came across the blog by LaughWrinkles who is a 21 year old Canadian protestant living in India on a mission assignment at a Catholic mission. She doesn't write often, but every story is riveting and educational. It is hard to imagine someone so young being so self-possessed and confident in her travels and strong in her faith--certainly not an image I have of myself at that age. In some ways it does remind me of the letters my sister Carol sent home about her year in Brethren Volunteer Service when she was 18. One, or I should say three, of the problems she encounters are prejudice against women, against westerners, and of course hostility toward Christians, who are a tiny minority and often of low caste.

When I posted her story at Church of the Acronym I received a comment from a blogger in India that included a story about a father in India whose daughter was killed (possibly a dowry dispute?). I was a little confused about the details, but looked at his website. Apparently there are new laws in India affecting the status of married women and custody of children and the right to abortion. The author finds these changes threatening. The English was difficult for me, so if you have another site to suggest, pass it along.

Meanwhile, in the January/February issue of Books and Culture there is an article, "The shackles of caste," about the Dalits of India. Although it's been over 50 years since the untouchable status was made unconstitutional, serious crimes against the lowest caste members still persist. Because India is a major player in the global economy and technically a "democracy," we need to care about this.

Prisoners of the Hindu caste system, India's 250 million Dalits face such indignities on a daily basis. According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 100,000 crimes of hate were committed against Dalits between 1994 and 1996 nationwide—including many cases of murder, rape, and assault as well as lesser crimes. Many more incidents were not reported. Observers believe that with the rise of rightwing Hindu fundamentalists in India, such attacks are increasing in frequency. And apart from physical assault, Dalits face systematic social, economic, and religious exploitation. India's pernicious caste system dwarfs South African apartheid, both in scale and in effect. Apartheid is gone, but caste remains.

A new book, Dalit Freedom—Now and Forever, chronicles the Dalits' ages-long plight. Written by an Indian Christian and supplemented by commentary from notable Dalit leaders, it issues a ringing call not only for political liberation but also for spiritual liberation. And it makes the case that these two freedoms go together. . .

The caste system is Jim Crow on steroids. While human-rights activists have campaigned against apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Rwanda, Sudan, and Serbia, they have had surprisingly little to say about caste in India. If divestment was the right approach in freeing blacks in Africa, why is it not in freeing Dalits in India, which is increasingly tied to the global economy? The upper castes reap almost all the benefits of globalization and thus would have to pay attention if economic sanctions over caste became an issue.

This relentless oppression undermines India's claim to be the world's largest democracy, just as the persistence of systematic racial discrimination in the United States long after the abolition of slavery flagrantly contradicted America's democratic ideals.

1 comment:

Dancing Boys Mom said...

It is always so sad to read about this country. We read a few weeks ago about a pastor in Northern India who was arrested. A man had claimed to be a convert and they were to baptize him. The man had the pastor arrested claiming it was a forced conversion. And the West is silent. I suppose it's a bit like the ideas put in place in our "policy" with China...we will win them over with our money and in the meantime we'll turn a blind eye (or merely pay lip service) to the human rights violations.